Euro Chumps: Ron Atkinson

Given his chequered commentary career, you have to wonder how Ron Atkinson became a successful football manager and conveyed his messages to his players.

From his lollipops to the two Ms (movement and positioning), Big Ron spent many years of the European Championship frankly ruining ITV’s coverage of the tournament with his inane rambling. This site does a better job of summarising than I do.

But Atkinson really excelled himself in Euro 88 and seem to single out Marco Van Basten for his vitriol. Describing the Dutch striker as having ‘fallen down with exhaustion’ as he won a penalty against West Germany in the semi-finals, Atkinson went one better in the Final.

After witnessing perhaps the greatest goal ever scored, Atkinson’s could only offer ‘it’s as we’ve said all along, the Russians can’t defend cross balls’ as a summary. Because Lord knows, such luminaries as Big Ron’s former charges like Kevin Pressman and Carlton Palmer would have gobbled up a moment of absolute genius for breakfast. Continue reading

Euro Chumps: Ronald Koeman

The Dutch side of 1988 was one brimming with talent; easily one of the best sides in European Championship history.

But in typical Dutch fashion they had to tarnish that accolade with pure petulance and it should come as no surprise that it was one of the most petulant players of all.

Defender Ronald Koeman wasn’t your typical bruising centre half. Not blessed with tremendous height or much pace, Koeman relied on a GPS-like sense of positioning, a clever football brain and a range of passing that was akin to that of championship golfer on the driving range. Add to that an unerring accuracy from set pieces; Koeman boasted a goal record of one in every four games from centre half – and you can see why he was such an important part of this glittering Dutch side.

But whilst Messrs. Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard were doing their best to light up the tournament, Koeman was trying his best to uphold that Dutch tradition of bringing of the game into disrepute.

Fresh off being left in the dust by England’s Bryan Robson, Koeman went one better in the semi-final against archrivals West Germany. After Van Basten netted a last-gasp winner to send the Dutch through to the final and the hosts spiralling out. As is tradition, the two teams swapped shirts at the final whistle with Koeman receiving Olaf Thon’s.

And to show his gratitude, Koeman proceeded to simulate wiping his backside with the West German midfielder’s top, right in front of the home supporters. This would be the equivalent to Ally McCoist wiping his nose with Gary Lineker’s top in front of a packed Wembley. Regrettably, it wouldn’t be Koeman’s last misdemeanour on the big stage.

Euro Chumps: Kenny Sansom

When England were paired with the Republic of Ireland, many English fans were predicting a landslide victory. Irish manager Jack Charlton had assembled a garbled team of misfits with a mere trace of Irish heritage and England were banking on a comprehensive victory to kickstart their campaign in a tough group that also included the Soviet Union and Holland.

Of course that wasn’t to be. England started woefully and went behind to a header from Ray Houghton. You read that right; a header from Ray Houghton – the same Ray Houghton who is about 5’4″ on stilts. It wasn’t just the ignominy of losing, it was the manner in which England did it. This was the tournament of the swashbuckling Dutch, the flying Russians, the German machine, the classy Italians…and the bumbling English.

It was a goal straight out of Sunday League. A long, high, hopeful Irish ball from left to right looked to be meat and drink for Gary Stevens, only for Mark Wright (mullet and all) to come careering across and clatter his own team-mate. The ball fell for Tony Galvin to loop a cross into the box but there was little danger because veteran Kenny Sansom was there to clear the lines.

Now that moment that seems to haunt England at most major tournaments. The Dutch gave us total football, the Italians the concept of the sweeper, the Brazilians the wonder of attacking full backs; the English – the panicking punt back into your own penalty area.

Up the ball went into the Stuttgart air. It came down for that renowned Irishman John Aldridge to flick on; Sansom was back to get a challenge in (on a player his size no less), but no, Houghton rose (more like stooped) unchallenged to loop the slowest header in the world over Peter Shilton.

It was enough to give the Irish the victory and put England off to a bad start, which would only get worse. You would have shook your head in despair and turned the air blue if the winner had been scored in an under-sevens game, let alone an international tournament. Euro 88 remains one of the darkest spots in English football history.

Continue reading

Euro Chumps: Jürgen Klinsmann

The eyes of Europe were focused on West Germany’s prodigious young talent Jürgen Klinsmann as Euro 88 kicked off in his homeland and the VfB Stuttgart striker certainly made a lasting impression on the watching millions.

The-then reigning West German Young Player of the Year had not yet made an impact on the international stage but all that changed against bitter rivals the Dutch in the semi-finals of the 1988 tournament.

A ball into the edge of the area found Klinsmann, who turned and launched himself over the thigh of an Oranje defender with a triple Salchow, double somersault and belly flop finish for a dubious penalty, which was converted by Andreas Brehme (fresh off being swatted away by Bobby Mancini) and thus a career was born. Klinsmann would even take this ‘talent’ to a bigger stage and ‘earn’ his country the World Cup just two years later. All this being long before he wowed English fans by turning this art form into a celebration rather than a dirty, cheating technique.